For Wyoming football, Bohl's arrival means new atmosphere in Laramie

2014-04-18T06:10:00Z 2014-04-18T06:35:04Z For Wyoming football, Bohl's arrival means new atmosphere in LaramieBy MIKE VOREL Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
April 18, 2014 6:10 am  • 

CASPER, Wyo. — Jonah Field is waiting.

For now, it is quiet. On a sunny Tuesday in April, a persistent Laramie wind blows in from the south, over and around the video board looming behind the far goalpost. A solitary man in a black hooded sweatshirt runs the War Memorial steps, the beat of his sneakers reverberating on shiny metal stairs.

Behind the vast, empty field, a sign that reads, "CAUTION: Cannon Firing Zone" is nailed to a tree. The wind whistles, but there hasn't been cannon fire in these parts for ages.

Down a walkway and across a paved sidewalk, the Indoor Practice Facility stands nearby. Inside, it looks nearly identical to how it did a year ago. A full turf field is laid out, with the yards marked off and a brown bucking horse laying proudly at midfield.

The change is so small that you probably wouldn't notice it.

On the inside brown double doors, a sentence is printed in white block letters. The mantra once lived in Fargo, N.D., and has since migrated 800 miles southwest and settled on these doors in Laramie.

It reads: "THOSE WHO STAY WILL BE CHAMPIONS."

For a program teetering between two eras, it's a telling sentence.

Those who stay.

Guinea pigs

In the film room inside the Rochelle Athletics Center, those who stayed are surrounded by those who didn't. The walls are covered with a mural of recent Wyoming greats, one photo blending and fading into the next. Brett Smith points skyward after a touchdown. Robert Herron, his right arm cradling a football, turns upfield. Mike Purcell dips his shoulder through an opponent's offensive line.

These were Dave Christensen's players. They are reminders of a period of time, of a chapter that ended with a loud and hollow thud.

Wyoming's current players were recruited by Christensen, yet here they are, guinea pigs to a new regime. They saw the way things were, and they're witnesses to all that has changed under Craig Bohl in a few short months.

The changes, even in a room shrouded in Wyoming's past, have been extensive.

“I think one of the biggest differences is the team camaraderie that we have now," says Dominic Rufran, the team's top returning receiver. "People come in to practice enjoying it. They’re excited for it. A lot of the time before, we would just be dragging. We wouldn’t want to be there."

Sophomore running back Omar Stover reinforces it, that camaraderie. It's something you feel, but can't touch. Glance down Wyoming's roster, and many of the names haven't changed.

The way they interact, however, is unrecognizable.

“I feel like we’re all a team now," Stover says. "Everybody cooperates. Everybody hangs out with one another. It’s not offense and defense anymore. It’s just the Wyoming Cowboys.”

Uso Olive sits in front of you, wearing out a weary smile. Today's practice has buried him, challenging his will. He walked into the film slowly, methodically, as if dragging an invisible weight.

He is exhausted, just as he has been for much of the past month. So why does he keep smiling?

“Words can’t explain it. It’s just way better," Olive says, comparing this spring to previous ones. "The guys love it. It has benefited us from day one to where we’re at right now. What happened in the past is in the past. I already forgot about it. We’re in this new era, and that’s where we’re at.”

These players don't bash the last coaching staff. They don't even mention them.

But even with gaping omissions, the words they choose speak volumes.

“That’s something we needed, to actually have someone encouraging us," Olive says. With the mural at his back, the mammoth nose tackle is surrounded by ghosts.

"When you love the people that are coaching you, you want to play hard for them.”

Waiting

Tom Burman sits at his desk, with a photo of War Memorial Stadium pinned above his head on the back wall. The stadium is packed, two giant bleachers drenched in brown and gold surrounding a spectacularly lit field. Outside the athletic director's office, the stadium looks nothing like this. It is empty.

It is still waiting.

The photo, framed and hung like a shiny badge of honor, is a reminder of what once was, and could be again.

“There’s kind of a renewed sense of enthusiasm and hope and excitement for 2014," Burman says, leaning back in his chair. "We're sensing at all of our events around the state, and when we take coach Bohl and his staff out — whether it’s a service club organization or a Cowboy Joe event — they really are gravitating towards him.

"They appreciate his appreciation for Wyoming. They like the vibe they’re getting from him."

Burman hopes a new coach means a new culture, and in turn, a new tradition of success. The term "new era" has been printed on posters and attached to the end of tweets at will, usually followed by more than one exclamation point.

The message, at its core, is that Craig Bohl is someone you recognize. He's tough. He's rugged. He's engaging, whether speaking into a microphone or at the home of a recruit.

He's the Bizarro Christensen, and he's building toward opposite results.

"Coach Christensen’s style is 180 degrees different than Craig," Burman says. "Craig is more approachable. He’s more outgoing. He’s a very engaging personality.

"And being from Nebraska and knowing a little bit of the history of Wyoming and the history of Cowboy football, I think that gives him a different perspective. He’s pretty down to Earth, which Wyoming people for the most part are. I think there’s a connection there.”

Burman can make no guarantees that this state will buy Bohl, but his optimism is unwavering. He expects season and single-game ticket sales to improve, though that's not saying much. He hopes to see brown and gold litter the War Memorial bleachers during the team's annual spring game on Saturday.

The goal, after all the talk has subsided, is to watch a Cowboys victory in a stadium that resembles the one at his back.

“People were ready for a change, and I think this change is nearly perfect," he says. "From a fan’s perspective, they look at Coach Bohl — his track record, his style, his personality — and they really embrace it. I think we’re in a good position."

It's a comfortable position — for now. Burman pauses, then acknowledges that.

"Now, honeymoons don’t last forever," he says. "In the fall, we have to deliver.”

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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